A Suffering Dog – What Does Torah Require?

May 3, 2014
Look for the dog in this photo.

Look for the dog in this photo.

Kindness to animals is not merely a “good deed.” Unnecessary cruelty to animals (Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim) is repeatedly forbidden in the Torah.

It’s getting warm outside. You see an animal locked into a hot vehicle. You think, “Is this my business?” and I assure you, the Torah commands that we act when a fellow creature is suffering.  In Exodus 23:5:

If you see a donkey belonging to someone who hates you fallen down under its burden, you may not pass by him, and you must surely release him.

Even if the animal is owned by an enemy, even if it is a work animal fallen down working, we may not pass by and we must surely help. An unusual grammatical construction in the Hebrew (“must surely help”) underlines the urgency of this commandment.

Why does the Torah add “belonging to someone who hates you?” The reaction of the owner – their feelings about us – are not part of the equation. If they are angry that we “meddled,” so be it.

So what are my options when I see an animal locked in a car on a hot day? This happened to me this past week: I saw the dog in the photo above locked in a truck in 90 degree heat (outside – goodness knows what it was inside the truck.) I had been parked next to the truck for 15 minutes waiting for a friend (I was drinking water, with the windows down to catch the breeze) before I noticed the dog. He was panting heavily and had no water.

I took a photo of the dog (above) and of the license plate of the truck, and went inside the business to find help. The business has a security guard, who walked back with me to check the situation. As we walked, a couple sprinted by us and released the dog from the car, taking him out on a leash. The man walked rapidly away with the dog, and the woman walked back to the business, telling us that she “appreciated our concern” but that they had been “checking on the dog every ten minutes.” The security person chose to drop the matter there.

Did the couple understand that they had been cruel to the dog? Probably not. My impression was that they wanted to avoid trouble. It is my hope that they will avoid trouble in future by not torturing the dog.

I share this story because I want to let you know that Torah requires we act when we see a suffering animal. Judaism is very clear about this: while it is permitted to kill and eat some animals for food, we are required to do so with a minimum of pain to the animal. That’s what we are paying for when we pay extra for kosher meat: we are paying for rabbinic supervision certifying that the animal was slaughtered in a kosher fashion. There are a lot of controversies about whether kosher methods are still the kindest available, and a growing number of Jews and others have elected a vegan lifestyle to completely avoid cruelty to animals. However, the principle itself stands: we are not permitted even to witness unnecessary cruelty to animals. It is up to each of us to determine exactly where we will draw the line of necessity.

Nothing about that dog’s situation looked “necessary” to me.

So, if you see an animal suffering in a car in the heat, what can you do?  If it is outside a place of business, notify the business (the dog or ar owner is likely there.) If that doesn’t produce immediate results, call the police with a description of the car, the dog, the license plate, and location. There are laws against animal cruelty in many locales. Keep trying until help arrives.

I would be very reluctant to break a window on the car. Breaking the window gets us into a whole new set of questions. Also, if we’re talking about dogs, unless the dog has collapsed from the heat, there’s always the possibility that the dog will run off and get hurt in traffic or that it will try to protect the car and bite.

May we each have courage and resourcefulness when faced with a situation requiring action!


Upcoming Classes in Lafayette, CA

December 27, 2013
Classes meet in this building.

Classes meet in this building.

For Bay Area readers of this blog:

My Sunday morning classes at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, CA will begin on January 5.

Jewish History: Exploring Judaism begins a five week look at Jewish Texts and History. Yes, five weeks, five hours for thousands of years of history, also known as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride through Jewish History. If you have wondered what the rabbi means by mishnah or how that’s different from midrash, this is a great short survey class.  Class starts at 9am sharp and runs to 10am. We have coffee, and if you want to bring your breakfast along, no one will mind. Members of the class include people in the adult b’nei mitzvah program at Temple Isaiah, folks considering conversion, and some friends-of-Jews who are interested in learning more about Judaism – a great class!  Join us!

Text Study: The same morning, January 5 at 10:15am we’ll begin a Jewish Ethics class which will take a look at Ethics of the Fathers, a first-century document of homespun advice from the sages. This is perhaps the most accessible book in rabbinic literature, and we’re going to read parts of it together. The class will have a read-and-discuss format, exactly the opposite of the Wild Ride in the previous class. Hebrew proficiency is not required.

Both classes meet in the Contra Costa Jewish Day School building, at the top of the Temple Isaiah parking lot. The building is completely accessible.

To register for these classes, and to see the other offerings in Isaiah’s great Sunday morning lineup, go to this page on the temple website.

 


Nothing is Wasted

April 11, 2012
After hour depository (dropbox) of the old Exc...

After hour depository of the old Exchange National Bank building, in downtown Tampa, Florida (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes I prepare for a class that simply doesn’t happen.  I had one of those this week:  I was to teach a three-week class on Food and Jewish Ethics, and the timing simply wasn’t right.  There were not enough people signed up, and the management at Lehrhaus Judaica and I regretfully pulled the plug.

It’s a pity, because I was really excited about it.  I was going to spend the first class meeting talking a bit about how Jews do ethics.  Then we were going to brainstorm what ethical issues come up when one contemplates the dinner table, and choose two to four topics to hash out over the remaining classes.  The specifics would be driven by their interests.  But 10 am on Wednesdays was not a good time, despite some interest, so we’ll have to find another time slot and give it a go perhaps in the fall, perhaps in the evening.

So, was the preparation a waste?  Not at all.  For one thing, those lovingly prepared lesson plans are waiting in my Dropbox folder for another opportunity.  All I will need to do is refresh my memory, see if any new ideas have sprouted in the back of my mind since I prepared them, and I’m off to the races.  So that’s all good.

But there’s a deeper reason why it wasn’t a waste:  time spent studying Torah is never wasted.  I approach my own table now with renewed awareness.  When I pick up a piece of nice matzah, I am drawn to read the back of the box:  where did it come from?  Who made it?  When I look at the vegetables in the fridge, I am much more aware of a host of  issues.  The chapters I read on hunger led  to check on the status supplies at my local food bank (not good), leading me to dig a little deeper for tzedakah.

As Mishnah Peah 1.1 says, “Talmud Torah keneged kulam” — “the study of Torah leads to them all” [the things that are valuable both in this world and in the world to come.]

And those are my thoughts at the beginning of Day 5 of the Omer.


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